Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Roots


I was born and raised in New Jersey - the "Garden State" (cue the wisecracks). Yes, I know. I've heard all of the jokes.  And for the record, I can honestly say that I've never once heard a New Jersey native say the words: "New Joi-sey" (we leave that to the New Yorkers).  

I lived in a rural town in northwestern New Jersey (on the border of both New York and Pennsylvania).  No, my neighbors weren't The Sopranos, just hard working folks and good people, many of whom were trying to get away from the more crowed suburbs of New York City to have a better life for their families.  The New Jersey of my youth provided fresh air, dairy farms, country roads and wide open spaces. It was the best of both worlds: the farms and fields of a small town but also the exciting world of New York City which was only about an hour away (without traffic of course).

I lived in New Jersey for the first twenty three years of my life before feeling a strong desire to spread my wings and go farther afield to explore new territories.  At the time, I felt like I was root-bound (like a potted house plant that has outgrown its container), and so I packed up and moved to New York (a different world and another chapter altogether).

Although I haven't lived in New Jersey for over 19 years and will most likely never live there again (too crowded and cold!), my roots there played a significant role in shaping who I am today.  I am grateful for growing into a human being on that particular patch of earth. New Jersey is my "home".  It's where I began. 

Where are you from?  What is your origin?  How did you begin?

Roots are interesting things.  Our roots inform the strength and depth of the foundation for our ever growing human experience.  We are all connected to the world around us.  Our roots sustain us and give us stability and nourishment. The dictionary/thesaurus on my computer lists the following words to describe roots: "source, origin, germ, beginning(s), genesis; cause, reason, basis, foundation, bottom, seat; core, heart, nub, essence".  Our roots are where the earth ends and we begin. 

Yoga takes roots seriously. Yoga seeks to help us find our way "home" to the strongest root of all: Our true self.  The part of us that is unending and infinite.

How?  Well, yogic philosophy asserts that there are energy centers located in the midline of the body called "chakras" that when balanced, contribute to our wellbeing. The first of these is called muladhara or the "root/base" chakra which is located at the base of the spine.  The root chakra is all about foundation.  It energetically deals with our being firmly grounded, stable and secure.  It helps us to feel at home in the world.  Its function is to help us feel present in the here and now and connected to our physical body. Muladhara represents the earth.  The ancient yogis believed that our origin, our identity and our heritage are all seeds that are planted into this chakra at the time of our conception.  They believed that to have a solid and stable life, we have to start out with a solid base.  

This makes sense, right? I liken it to building a house.  When building a house, we don't start with the roof and work our way down to the foundation.  No, we start by digging deep into the earth to lay a strong foundation and then build up from that solidity. Muladhara is the basement in our physical and energetic home.

In much the same way, as we practice yoga, we aspire to physically build each pose from the ground up.  We aim to connect deeply with our base, find solidity there and then work our way up through the body with steadiness and strength.  In our mental and emotional practice we endeavor to send our roots down into the rich soil of the moment, staying steady with each experience as it unfolds.  This foundation creates space for us to experience the flowering of our much larger and more glorious spiritual self. 

Sadly, as a result of living on auto-pilot much of the time, we become out of touch with our physical support (the body) and the firm foundation of mindfulness.

And so we start at the source, the lowest point and dig down from there. 

Mindfulness is the strongest root.  We sit quietly with eyes closed and feel where we are connected to the earth or our yoga mat.  Drawing our awareness to the support beneath us, we root ourselves into it.  Drawing our attention to the base of the spine where muladhara chakra resides, we imagine growing a root from the tailbone into the ground and from the source of our support we surrender to the experience of the moment: What does the body feel like?  Where do we feel the breath?  Where is the mind wandering off to?

And then using the breath we begin to return again and again to the essence of this moment.  Breathing in through the nose.  Pause.  Breathing out through the nose.  Pause.  Finding our way into our roots through breathing into the moment.  

I am thankful for my New Jersey roots and for the strong underpinning that being born there offered me.  My deep roots allowed me to blossom in the world and grow beyond the ground of my origin.

Think of your beginnings.  Be aware that your roots were nourished in the rich, healthy soil that was needed for you to become what you are today.

Until next time...
To practice mula bandha:
Mula Bandha helps build core body strength, enables you to hold the postures longer, protects the low back muscles and makes the postures more stable. Mula Bandha also increases your energy and improves concentration and mental clarity. Using mula bandha to support the asana from your core allows the distal muscles to relax, enabling the body to use less energy to hold the posture.

As you practice standing postures, imagine that from the waist down, you are rooted into the earth and from the waist up you are growing up towards the sky.

Each standing posture starts with your feet energetically rooting down into the rich soil of support. Draw this stability up through the legs and into the body by activating the energy of the muladhara chakra. The power of muladhara comes from lifting the pelvic floor to stabilize our foundation and to "lock" energy in the body.  This is called Mula Bandha (pelvic floor lock). The bandhas are energy locks by which we can direct the flow of prana (life-force energy that animates and unites us all).

So, standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) inhale and with the length of your breath circle your arms up over your head, and soften your belly.  As you exhale, follow the length of the breath, circle your arms back to your sides drawing your navel towards your spine and hugging the anus and genitals towards one another (mula bandha).

Repeat 5-10 times (or more) getting used to the feeling of toning the pelvic floor.

Begin to incorporate mindfulness and mula bandha into all of your standing poses and watch your practice GROW! 

ROOTS 
by Ashley Lamore

Our roots 
The place we are born and raised 
The people we grew up with 
In life we eventually 
Put down roots somewhere else 
But no matter what 
Even though we have roots 
Here and There 
We will always venture back 
To our main roots 
The place and people that 
Grounded us and gave us life 
In the first place.

"There is deep wisdom within our very flesh, if we can only come to our senses and feel it."  ~Elizabeth A. Behnke


"Surely a man needs a closed place wherein he may strike root and, like the seed, become.  But also he needs the great Milky Way above him and the vast sea spaces, though neither stars nor ocean serve his daily needs." ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

2 comments:

  1. This trips me out, dude. I totally thought you were in your late twenties. When you said that you hadn't lived in NJ for 19 years in class, I was stunned. DANG GURRRRL YOU LOOK GOOOOOOOOOD!

    -KB

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